Researchers at the University of Central Florida created a geological model to give prospectors looking to mine the moon better odds of striking gold.
Since finding the yellow metal on the moon is linked to the existence of rich deposits of water ice that can be turned into resources, like fuel, for space missions, the scientists created an Ice Favorability Index.
In a paper published in the journal Icarus, the experts say that the geological model explains the process for ice formation at the poles of the moon, and maps the terrain, which includes craters that may hold ice deposits.
The model also accounts for what asteroid impacts on the surface of the moon may do to deposits of ice found meters beneath the surface.
“Despite being our closest neighbor, we still don’t know a lot about water on the moon, especially how much there is beneath the surface,” lead author Kevin Cannon said in a media statement. “It’s important for us to consider the geologic processes that have gone on to better understand where we may find ice deposits and how to best get to them with the least amount of risk.”
According to Cannon, the way mining companies operate on Earth served as inspiration for this project.
“Mining companies conduct field mappings, take core samples from the potential site and try to understand the geological reasons behind the formation of the particular mineral they are looking for in an area of interest,” the researcher said. “In essence, they create a model for what a mining zone might look like before deciding to plunk down money to drill.”
Following this approach, his team used data collected about the moon over the years, including data from satellite observations and from the first trip to the moon, and ran simulations in the lab.
Besides the possibility of finding critical minerals and metals for earthly endeavors, mining the moon could allow humans to explore the solar system and beyond.
If a source of fuel can be extracted from the moon, it would mean that spacecraft would not have to carry extra fuel with them for long missions. This, in turn, would help ease the cost of flights.
Earlier this year, the US proposed the Artemis Accords, a deal that among other things lines-up with several public and private initiatives to fulfill the goal of extracting resources from asteroids, the moon and even other planets.
Back in 2015, the US Congress passed a bill explicitly allowing companies and citizens to mine, sell and own any space material.
The law, however, did not grant “sovereignty or sovereign or exclusive rights or jurisdiction over, or the ownership of, any celestial body.”